April 13, 2003


"Right after the sandstorm ended, we started getting indications that they were getting pounded," said a senior military officer. And when the Air Force's "bomb damage assessments" finally arrived that weekend, the results were astonishing. The Army had wanted to hold back until the Medina Division was judged to be cut to 50 percent of its original combat effectiveness. Instead, the Medina was assessed to be at just 20 percent.

The result, said a senior military officer, is that the war looked very different to ground commanders than it did to Franks or to his bosses at the Pentagon. "There are real disconnects," he said. But, he added, "I don't think there has ever been a battle where there hasn't been a strategic-tactical disconnect."

The most important meeting of the war may have been the one held on the morning of Saturday, March 29 on a wooded ridge in the Maryland countryside, at the Camp David presidential retreat. Some retired generals were arguing that U.S. forces in Iraq should wait for reinforcement from the 4th Infantry Division, and some Army officers on active duty privately agreed with that view.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is close to Rumsfeld and a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, recalled that the discussion was a turning point. "You had this moment when the old Army was pounding away, saying that we were out there and facing the Republican Guard" with too small of force, said Gingrich. "That was the moment of optimum danger. A less confident administration might have paused and waited for another division to come up."

At the Saturday morning meeting, held as a video teleconference, President Bush "was not an impatient person," recalled a senior administration official. "He was prepared to let things unfold."

The meeting's conclusion, said a presidential adviser, was that the campaign should remain "Baghdad-centric," and that the forces should push on to the capital as soon as possible, rather than try to secure their supply lines and consolidate their positions in southern Iraq. The thinking, recalled this adviser, "was that if you cut off the head of the snake, the rest of the snake wouldn't be able to eat you."

The president also had another agenda, said this official. Several people close to Bush said the calculated risk of plunging ahead was driven partly by the realization that it was important for Rumsfeld's ambition of transforming the military into a lighter, more agile force. Slowing down on the battlefield threatened to suggest a reversal of the administration's key defense policy.

"The people who were bad-mouthing the plan were the anti-transformation forces, the heavy-Army guys," said this person, who participated in numerous war-planning meetings. "They wanted 600,000 troops in there. By not waiting around, it had the effect of winning that debate." The message that came down the chain of command from that meeting, said a senior military officer, was, "Stay the course."

The two big, but as yet underreported, stories implicated here are, unfortunately, the raw number of Iraqis we killed and, hopefully, that Iraq was fought as much as a demonstration case as anything else. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 13, 2003 1:03 AM

There's an old saying, "Fortune favors the bold".

Posted by: Norman Rogers at April 13, 2003 11:40 AM